28 December 2012


“At the heart of all great art is an essential melancholy.”—Federico García Lorca

I love this photograph of the poet and playwright Federico García Lorca with his little sister, Isabel. It's adorable—the little girl's finger points out the words as she reads while her big brother, with a protective arm around her, probably helps her to sound out the more difficult words. It's a scene common to childhood but knowing that 20-odd years later, on August 19,1936, that this brilliant writer's own words and beliefs would lead to his execution by fascists forces makes the image bittersweet.

Sorry to end the week on such a melancholy note. Happier stuff next time round.

27 December 2012

Saga Sites

There’s a great little exhibit at the Scandinavia House right now. “Saga Sites: Landscapes of the Icelandic Sagas” features 19th century watercolours by W.G. Collingwood of the sites associated with the sagas of Icelanders juxtaposed with modern photographs by Einar Falur Ingólfsson of the same locations.

Englishman W.G. Collingwood journeyed to Iceland in 1897 with his friend Jón Stefánsson to visit the various settings of the sagas—important prose stories about the people who settled Iceland that became the foundation of the country’s literary tradition. He completed 300 watercolours during his three-month trip and later published them in A Pilgrimage to the Sagasteads of Iceland. Between 2007 and 2009, Icelandic photographer Einar Falur Ingólfsson, interested in seeing how the saga sites had changed since Collingwood's time, set out to capture them with his camera. And while he used Collingwood's watercolours and writings as a guide, he often shot from a different perspective. 

In many cases, the areas appear to have changed little in the past 100 years save for the occasional telephone lines. Sometimes the modern view takes an almost comic turn: an empty field in the 19th century today is home to an abandoned bus. I especially loved the landscapes that show a lone house in the watercolour and in the photograph a slightly more modern lone house.

Many of Collingwood's watercolours are small yet filled with great details. He captures the beauty of the land while conjuring up the feeling of isolation. Ingólfsson’s photographs are vivid with rich colour and often quite striking, their large format helping to convey the vastness of the land.

The works of these two artists allow the viewer to place the people from the sagas in their environment, bringing the stories to life. But most of all they show the unique place that is Iceland. I went to Iceland one year for my birthday and loved it—magnificient mountains and waterfalls; crater-filled land and volcanoes; crystal clear rivers and geysers. There's no other place quite like it.

The exhibit runs through January 12, 2013 and the admission is free. For more information, visit the Scandinavia House here.

26 December 2012


Bronia and Tylia Perlmutter (1922)

On my shelves are a fair amount of books about the Lost Generation and one that I return to again and again is Billy Klüver and Julie Martin’s Kiki’s Paris. It’s filled with loads of stories and wonderful images that I can spend hours poring over.

This photo of Bronia and Tylia Perlmutter is one of my favourites in the book. Bronia, the younger sister, demurely averts her eyes while elder sister Tylia stares almost insolently at the camera, holding a boudoir doll in her hand. It is the seemingly shy Bronia who draws our attention. What thoughts are going on behind those downcast eyes?

There is not a lot of information about Bronia but I discovered that the sisters were Polish Jews raised in the Netherlands who came to Paris in 1922 when Tylia was 18 and Bronia 16. They both found work modelling for various artists in Montparnasse. Bronia was particularly popular with Nils Dardel, Foujita, and Moïse Kisling (she would often act as hostess for Kisling at luncheons he hosted). She also modelled clothes for designers Paul Poiret and Nicole Grolt that she would wear out at night.

"Young Girl Depicting Bronia Perlmutter" Nils Dardel (1925)

Bronia and Tylia made appearances in the works of Lost Generation writers as well. Djuna Barnes and Robert McAlmon wrote about them, as did Ernest Hemingway in A Moveable Feast where they are referred to simply as the two models. Hemingway describes Bronia as “beautifully built with a falsely fragile depravity.”

It's not surprising that artists wanted to capture her beauty. Bronia was lovely in an ethereal way with dark hair and large, blue-grey eyes. She liked to dance and one evening in 1923 at Le Boeuf sur le Toit she met the young writer Raymond Radiguet who danced with her and soon declared that he planned to marry her. A jealous Jean Cocteau became angry and, according to Bronia, threatened to have Bronia and her sister deported. The young couple hid out at the Hôtel Foyot to avoid Cocteau. But Radiguet became ill and died from typhoid fever that year at the age of 20.

In addition to modelling, Bronia also did a little acting. For Galerie des Monstres (1924) director Jacque Catelain gathered Montparnasse locals to star in the film; Bronia appears as a dancing doll and Tylia as a juggler. The film also has appearances by Kiki and a young Lois Moran.

Bronia Perlmutter. Photo: Berenice Abbott.

In December of 1924 Bronia and Tylia were invited by Francis Picabia to attend a performance of the Dadaist ballet Relâche, which included a screening of a short film, Entr'acte, at intermission. Bronia was introduced to the film’s director, René Clair, after the show. Later that same month Picabia asked Bronia to participate in a production, Ciné Sketch, that he and Clair were putting on after the ballet on New Year’s Eve. Bronia agreed, and she and Marcel Duchamp appeared nude—Duchamp did have a strategically placed fig leaf—in a living tabloid of Lucas Cranach’s Adam and Eve, which Man Ray photographed. 

A bit part in Clair’s film Le Voyage Imaginaire (1926) followed. The two fell in love and were married in 1926. They had one son, Jean-François, who was born in 1927. Bronia gave up modelling to devote herself to Clair, and they would remain married until Clair’s death in 1981.

I wondered what had become of Bronia. Then one day I was watching the Criterion Collection release of Clair’s À Nous la Liberté (1931) and there on the DVD extras was an interview from 1998 with an elderly Bronia who spoke about her early life and her husband. She was now a grand old Parisian lady but when she turned her head a certain way or flashed those mysterious eyes you could see the young girl in the photo from all those years ago.

25 December 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from the F. Scott Fitzgeralds and me! Last night I spent Christmas Eve with friends at their home in Brooklyn and today I'm having a silent Christmas, going to the movies with some others to see Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood. Not a bad way to celebrate. 

I wish you all Happy Holidays and hope you have a wonderful day with family and friends.

24 December 2012

Christmas in the City

There's something special about New York at Christmas. Maybe it's the smell of roasting chestnuts from a street cart or the feel of the cold on your face during a walk through Central Park on an overcast day.  

Maybe it's the wreaths and greenery stacked outside of bodegas or all the festive decorations—from the high-end stores uptown (Harry Winston adorned with diamonds, what else?) to the quaint houses (and fire escapes) downtown. 

Or maybe it's the sight of so many glorious Christmas trees from the angel-adorned tree with accompanying crèche at the Met to the stunner that greets you at the New York Public Library (above). The list goes on. Whatever it may be, New York has a special glow right now that makes me happy to be in the city for the holidays.

Photos by Michele.

21 December 2012

Window Follies

Bergdorf Goodman has the best Christmas windows hands down. They are always stylish, eye catching, and beautiful. This year’s windows are no exception. The theme, "BG Follies of 2012,” is a nod to the Jazz Age with scenes evoking the Ziegfeld Follies and Busby Berkeley musicals. I took some photos the other morning—here’s a peek at a few of them.

Absolutely beautiful, right? The photos don't do the windows justice (the last one, which brings to mind the couple from The Artist, is much nicer in person) so if you have a chance over the holidays, go over to Fifth Avenue and take a look. The earlier in the day, the better to miss the crowds.

Photos by Michele.

18 December 2012

Swedish Christmas

In the past Swedish design has always left me cold—just too much blond wood and white walls. This image though could change my mind. I like the brightness, the painted furniture, and the Christmas tree that isn't overly decorated. But my favourite thing is the fireplace. I love the idea of a corner fireplace, especially one that is circular in shape and looks so shiny and clean. And the little wreath is a perfect touch. I think a trip to Ikea might just be in order.

Photo by Carina Olander from here.

17 December 2012

Pot of Gold

I'm not a big eyeshadow person—mascara and the occasional eyeliner are usually fine by me—but I couldn't resist picking up Chanel's Illusion d'Ombre in Vision the other day. A lovely eyeshadow that adds just the right amount of golden glitter, it's the perfect festive touch for attending holiday parties or drinking cocktails. And it's an excuse to add another Chanel item to my make-up arsenal.

This pot of gold is part of Chanel's Holiday Collection, which you can purchase here.

14 December 2012

Tiffany Treats

Today at the Tiffany's in Soho there was a cute boy dressed in topcoat and bowler passing out Tiffany blue candy canes and cookies. What a sweet treat on a Friday afternoon. Thanks Tiffany's. 

Have a lovely weekend everyone!

Photo by Michele.

13 December 2012

Who's That Girl?

Hollywood musicals of the 1930s are often filled with dozens of pretty chorines who fill the background and support the films' leads. In some of Busby Berkeley’s greats—42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, Footlight Parade—there’s one woman in particular who stands out from the others around her. Sporting a striking black bob she's hard to miss. But who is she?

Mildred Dixon is at the end of the line in Gold Diggers of 1933

Thanks to some film fans, she’s been identified as Mildred Dixon who appeared in more than 15 films and shorts in the 1930s. She’s usually easy to spot in the dance routines; in Footlight Parade she has a line in the “Honeymoon Hotel” number. I’d like to know more about her; perhaps someone will uncover other films or info about her one of these days. In the meantime, I think I'm going to watch some of her films this week and play where's Mildred.

12 December 2012


"V-Jay Day in Times Square" Alfred Eisenstaedt (August 14, 1945)

“WWII & NYC” is a great new exhibit at the New York Historical Society that examines the city’s contributions to the war effort and the impact of the war on everyday New Yorkers. The exhibit opens with radio broadcasts by Edward R. Murrow reporting on the London Blitz and then with more than 400 photographs, paintings, and objects, takes visitors through to the end of the war.  

Penn Station, August, 1942. Photo: Library of Congress.

During World War II, New York saw 900,000 of its men join the Armed Services; 18,000 of them would perish. Yet there were many different ways that New York helped to win the war. Perhaps the most important contribution the city made was one that was unknown at the time. The Manhattan Project, started at Columbia University, resulted in the creation of the atomic bomb, which allowed the Allies to gain victory in the Pacific and end the war. On display in the exhibit is a cyclotron (an early atom smasher) that the scientists used; it was borrowed from the Smithsonian where it's been in storage since 1977. 

Minerva Matzkowitz at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Official U.S. Navy Photo, New-York Historical Society.

New York was a great manufacturer of necessary war items starting with ships built in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, including the Iowa and the Missouri. Also made in New York were uniforms from Brooks Brothers, firearms from IBM-run plants, penicillin from Charles Pfizer & Company, and helmets from the Met that were modelled on ones from the museum's collection. During a time when most materials were commandeered for the war effort, Maidenform received special permission to keep producing bras, an item deemed necessary for the women who took over the workforce stateside. By the way, Maidenform also invented a special “pigeon vest” that resembled a bra for carrier pigeons that were sent behind enemy lines.

Waves on the subway. Photo: New York Historical Society.

The city also served as the largest port of departure for servicemen with 3,300,000 shipping out from New York Harbor (at the height of the war, a ship left every 15 minutes). Meanwhile women trained in the Bronx at Hunter College (now Lehman College) as members of the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (“Waves”), which was made a branch of the U.S. Navy. In Queens at an old Paramount movie studio (now the Museum of the Moving Image) soldiers were shown how to become cameramen and films were made for the troops, including one morale booster staring Harold Russell who would go to win an Oscar for The Best Years of Our Lives.

And t
hen there was the effort on the home front from planting victory gardens to hanging service flags in their windows to signify family members serving abroad to dealing with rationing. Many New Yorkers sent care packages to loved ones overseas. One of my favourite items was a sign from Katz's Deli. Concerned with soldiers keeping kosher, it read "Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army." 

New Yorkers also had to worry about invasion, which wasn’t as far fetched as you might think. In fact, one of the most interesting parts of the exhibit was a section about U-123, a German U-boat that actually sailed into New York Harbor on the night of January 15, 1942. The crew took in the lights of the city (the sailors spoke of seeing the Wonder Wheel at Coney Island) before leaving, sinking a British tanker on their way. 

 Ike is out front to greet visitors. Photo: Michele.

There was much more so if you get a chance I'd suggest spending an afternoon checking out the exhibit. There are film screenings and lectures scheduled as well. “WWII & NYC” runs through May 27, 2013. For more information, visit the exhibit’s site here.

11 December 2012

Colour Change

This one photo has me dying to redo my flat in greys, blues, and silvers. I like my current palette of reds, greens, and yellows but all I want to do right now is enjoy a whole new look while sitting in that chair. Isn't it just lovely? 

The room is via Windsor Smith here.

10 December 2012

Un Ballo in Maschera

Last month I went to the Met to see a new production of Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera. I knew nothing about the opera but wanted the chance to see Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

Un Ballo in Maschera opens In the Swedish court of King Gustavo II who is in love with Amelia, the wife of his trusted secretary Count Anckarström. An incognito visit to Madame Arvisson, a fortuneteller, has Gustavo receiving the message that he will die at the hand of a friend. Later, he and Amelia meet and declare their mutual love but the arrival of Anckarström with news about conspirators causes Gustavo to depart and leave the veiled Amelia behind with her unknowing husband. When a threatened fight with the conspirators causes Amelia to fear for her husband’s safety she reveals her identity. Hurt by what he sees as betrayal by his wife and Gustavo, Anckarström first threatens to kill Amelia before deciding to kill Gustavo instead. At a masked ball at the palace, Gustavo tells Amelia that he is sending her and Anckarström away to Finland but it is too late. Anckarström shoots Gustavo who tells him that is wife is innocent before dying.

Un Ballo in Maschera can at times feel like a splintered opera, jumping from comedic moments led by the androgynous page, Oscar, played here by Kathleen Kim, to darker, serious moments. The set design didn’t help clarify this feeling. A large, classical image of Icarus dominated the backdrop while the sparse set had a modernistic, film noir look that never felt quite right.

Yet while I may not have loved the set or some of the choreography, I had no complaints about the singing. Marcelo Álvarez as Gustavo and Sondra Radvanovsky as Amelia both gave strong performances, bringing conviction to their roles while my favourite, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, was brilliant as Anckarström. The scene where he threatens to kill Amelia was a high point, showing off not just his singing but his acting skills as well. But it was Stephanie Blythe, appearing as the fortuneteller in only one scene, who seemed to blow everyone away. I’ve seen her before and she’s absolutely incredible.

On this trip I sat in the balcony, front row (very comfortable), and enjoyed a lovely conversation with my seatmates during the intermissions. I think I may be falling in love with going to the opera.

There's only one more performance of Un Ballo in Maschera left, December 14. To find out more about the rest of the season, visit here.

09 December 2012

The Bob

Image: Photoplay Magazine, June 1924

When it comes to hairstyles, for me the bob is the best. I've tried wearing my hair different ways but always wind up returning to the bob. According to this chart, I currently have the boyish bob with bangs although I've had the Dutch cut and the horizontal clubbed bob in the past. The bob is chic and classic. In other words, just perfect.

07 December 2012


"George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron" Richard Westall (1813)

 I only go out to get me a fresh appetite for being alone. —Lord Byron

Some people hate the idea of spending time alone while others relish the idea. I have no trouble being alone but will be the first to admit that sometimes I spend too much time on my own. Having spent the past few days  in my flat recuperating, I'm itching to go out. Hopefully in a day or two I'll get my wish.  In the meantime, hope everyone has a wonderful weekend.

06 December 2012

On the Mend

I'm spending the next few days at home, resting after having minor surgery yesterday. I've been watching old movies, napping on and off, and as a result I haven't seen a single film completely through. It hurts to laugh so I've been avoiding comedies and concentrating on mysteries and musicals (although the former can contain some zingers). Next up is Hitchcock's The Birds, which I haven't seen in many years. Let's see if Tippi and gang hold up.

Photo of the last rose of the season at Jefferson Market Garden by Michele.

03 December 2012

Beacon Hill

Beacon Hill has long been synonymous with wealth and prestige. It was the neighbourhood of the Boston Brahmins—the city's elite—who, beginning in the early 19th century, built homes on the south slope of the hill facing the Boston Common. Yet many people forget about the neighbours who populated the north slope—sailors, former slaves, and immigrants who lived in tenements and small flats. Their contribution to the history of Beacon Hill was just as important as those of the Cabots and Lodges. 

When I lived in Boston I used to take weekend walks about Beacon Hill, looking at all the beautiful houses and quaint antique shops, dreaming about living there one day. On my recent trip, I got up early one morning to wander the streets once more, focusing on the south slope and the flat of the hill.

Dominated by Federalist and Greek Revival-style buildings, Beacon Hill has managed to retain a strong sense of its past helped in part by its designation as a National Historic Landmark and strict laws pertaining to any renovations. So much seems unchanged that on certain streets if you were to remove the cars you might think you'd hear the clip clop of a horse-drawn carriage.

This is the neighbourhood where I learned to love brick and mansard roofs. The buildings' gorgeous details help to give each home an individual personality. Mt. Vernon Street is especially lovely with the only free standing houses on the hill (they even have front yards).

The homes' individuality begins with their doors. Some are plain while others have arches or columns. Most often painted black or red, they leave you wondering what lies within. 

And then there are those houses that stand out from their neighbours, whether they boast of balconies reminiscent of New Orleans or have colours and motifs that earn them the nickname the "Sunflower House" (I personally refer to it as the Hansel and Gretel house), that help make Beacon Hill such a unique place.

The signs of the past are everywhere from a vintage private way sign to a built-in boot scraper on some front steps (a very common item to find on Beacon Hill). Even the cars are vintage (OK, at least this one was).

And no address is posher that Louisburg Square. This private small patch of grass, enclosed by a black wrought iron fence, belongs to the owners of the surrounding townhouses that were built in the 1840s. Since that time, the square has had many illustrious residents including artist John Singleton Copley, architect Charles Bulfinch (designer of the nearby State House), and writers William Dean Howells and Louisa May Alcott.  

Yet with all of the square's grandeur, the most photographed place on Beacon Hill is Acorn Street. Here on this cobblestone side street that runs just one block in length, craftsmen in the 19th century built homes for their families that were scaled down versions of the nearby larger houses. With the row of houses on one side and high walls containing doors to hidden gardens on the other, Acorn Street is a perfect place to step back into time.

For such a tiny street of row houses, the homes on Acorn Street managed to stand out from each other with no two doors being alike. They were painted differently and displayed various door knockers, including an appropriate acorn at number eight.

Maybe one day I'll end up back in Boston and finally have a place of my own on Beacon Hill. Until then I will continue to visit each time I'm in town, enjoying this slice of the 19th century.

Photos by Michele.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...